Tim Perkins in his Placitas studio (PHOTO CREDIT: Oli Robbins)
Crock with Dried Roses, oil painting, by Tim Perkins
Flo Blu on Red, oil painting, by Tim Perkins
The Sugar Bowl, oil painting, by Tim Perkins
Time suspended: the still life Paintings of Tim Perkins
Vases, grapes, flowers, eggs, glass jars—these words conjure up clear pictures of the objects they refer to. We all encounter these goods on a daily basis, but rarely do we deeply examine their appearances. When viewing a still life painting by Placitas artist Tim Perkins, however, we do just that—find beauty in the colors, shapes, and forms of such objects, however banal. Perkins’ paintings pay homage to the everyday and ask that the viewer delight in that which is otherwise overlooked. Sometimes the most aesthetically pleasing and visually satisfying paintings are not those that provide a grand narrative, but those that present the prosaic in new, interesting, and beautiful ways.
Perkins, a native of Arizona, recently moved to Placitas with his wife, Joanne. Painting is a relatively new passion for Perkins, who served in the Air Force for twenty years before devoting himself to the craft. Before leaving the Air Force, while on tour in Paris, Perkins visited the Louvre and was fascinated by 17th-century Dutch still life paintings. It was around this time, about twelve years ago, that he tried his hand at painting.
Lacking formal training but eager to learn, Perkins turned to Bob Ross’s television program, The Joy of Painting. Recalls Perkins, “I was actually watching Bob Ross paint on T.V., and he was talking about the happy little trees.” As anyone who has had the pleasure of indulging in a few moments of Ross’s charming tutorials knows, Ross makes painting look easy. But most find that composing a perspectively accurate landscape with many “happy trees” is far from effortless. Perkins, clearly endowed with an innate flair for painting, found that Ross’s methods were easy to apply and proved successful—so successful, in fact, that he shortly outgrew them. He continued his artistic education by immersing himself in books. After finding a high quality reproduction of a painting he particularly admired, he would copy it. Perkins eventually sought formal instruction at the Scottsdale Artists’ School, where he learned from such contemporary still life masters as David Leffel and Gregg Kreutz, the work of both of whom Perkins has consulted for instruction and inspiration since day one. Perkins holds Leffel and Kreutz in the highest esteem, but when comparing his work to that of these contemporary greats, he notes that his style is “a little more detailed, more realistic. They’re a little more impressionistic. My work separates itself like that.”
The brilliant lighting effects achieved in Perkins’ paintings are attributable to Perkins’ own virtuosity, and also, as the artist explains, to a painting medium called “Maroger.” Composed of black oil and varnish and used centuries ago by such masters as Titian and Rubens, “Maroger,” says Perkins, “gives your work a little bit of luminosity when you use it in the impasto areas.”
Even Perkins’ earliest compositions were critically acclaimed. Perkins won the director’s award for best body of work at the very first art show he entered. His compositions continue to garner praise; he was named last month’s painter of the month by the Oil Painters of America, an organization that also awarded him at their 2011 Western regional show.
Several objects, intimately and quietly grouped together, take center stage in Perkins’ Crock with Dried Roses. A large brown crock vase, elegant dried roses, a blue jar, citrus fruits, fresh grapes, eggs and leaves rest atop a nondescript surface, against an abstract geometric backdrop. The scene is dimly and softly lit; shadows can be found on nearly every object, and two gentle patches of light hit the crock vase just left of center, to the right of the upright rose, and on the bottom right, above the branch of leaves. The scene is familiar in many ways, as each individual object depicted is commonplace in many homes, but it’s also striking, for rarely does one see, in the natural world, these exact home and food goods together, in such a delicate ensemble. Similarly, many 17th-century Dutch still life paintings juxtapose plants, flowers or fruits from different regions, or that do not naturally occur in nature alongside one another. These subtly unexpected arrangements endow still life paintings with a mystery that does not exist in most other realistic genres of art.
Before painting Crock with Dried Roses, Perkins gathered the objects he wished to paint, and artfully arranged them on a table in his studio. Having an eye for design is integral for a successful still life painter, as the objects to be painted must relate to one another harmoniously. The props Perkins includes in his compositions are carefully selected. Says Perkins, “Right away I know if I’d like to paint something or not. I like things that kind of have age on them.” Perkins stages all his props before beginning a piece, but will sometimes take liberties and work from imagination or memory, particularly when he wants to include a prop that he has already painted multiple times.
In nature, flowers and fruit are subject to decay. They bloom and dry, ripen and rot, reminding us of the ephemeral nature of time. But in Perkins’ intimate still lifes, the precious is memorialized and time stands still.
Visit Perkins’ website at www.timperkinsfineart.com for images of his available work, or enjoy his work in person at Santa Fe’s Manitou Galleries: manitougalleries.com.